There was a time, not too long ago, that America’s nuclear industry was probably the most important, and viable, in the world.
Today, it’s a dying industry, but why?
In the mid 1960s, GE bet the company by making huge investments in three strategic businesses: mainframe computers, jet engines and nuclear power. GE believed, rightfully so at the time, that nuclear power would be a large growth business.
By the late 1980s, GE was the second largest nuclear power company in the world.
In 1979 the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island was followed, in 1986, by the Chernobyl disaster.
These two accidents, though Chernobyl could hardly be called an accident because it resulted from unauthorized testing at low power levels, gave those opposed to nuclear power the upper hand in the PR war.
The China Syndrome epitomized the inaccurate picture of the dangers of nuclear power, and Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas brought star power to the anti-nuclear campaign.
The organizations opposing nuclear power now had a rallying cry: Radiation kills, and a meltdown would result in radiation exposure to millions.
The premiss of the movie, The China Syndrome, was that a reactor meltdown would result in tons of molten radioactive material burrowing through the bottom of the reactor building, and exploding into a radioactive cloud, which, as Fonda’s character says, “could render an area the size of Pennsylvania permanently uninhabitable.”
All of which was pure nonsense.
While totally inaccurate, these groups were able to instill fear of radiation into the minds of many Americans.
Though this fear was irrational, and completely unwarranted by the facts, it was a powerful force in the anti-nuclear campaign.
Several excellent books show that radiation is nothing to be feared, but the constant drum beat by anti-nuclear groups, that continues today, prevents a rational discussion on radiation.
Radiation and Reason, by Wade Allison, is one of several excellent books on the subject.
But who were these people that opposed nuclear power?
To name a few:
- National Resources Defense Council
- Friends of the Earth
- Union of Concerned Scientists
- Sierra Club
But there were many, many others.
President Carter’s decision to not allow reprocessing was very detrimental to the industry, and meant that a repository had to be found for large quantities of spent nuclear fuel. France largely avoided this problem by reprocessing spent fuel so that only a small amount, one-fifth of spent fuel, remained as high level wastes having to be stored.
America’s nuclear power companies in the 1980s included:
- General Electric
- Westinghouse Electric
- Babcock & Wilcox
Today, only one of these exists as a pure American company, Babcock-Wilcox, and it went through bankruptcy before being reorganized.
Today, GE is GE-Hitachi, and Westinghouse is Toshiba-Westinghouse LLC, a Toshiba subsidiary.
Today, in the United States, there are only 4 new nuclear power plants under construction, all by Toshiba -Westinghouse LLC. (One other plant, Watts Bar 2, whose construction was held up for several years, is being completed by TVA.)
In reality, the antinuclear groups have caused a great deal of harm to the United States.
All 100 existing United Sates nuclear power plants will probably be retired and dismantled, beginning in the mid-2030s. See U.S. Nuclear Demise.
No longer is the United Sates a leader in the nuclear industry.
Nuclear power is not dead elsewhere in the world. China and India, as well as several smaller countries are building new nuclear power plants.
But America is not involved, and American jobs and orders for equipment are lost to others by default.
- South Korea is building four nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
- The Russian company, Rosatom, is building power plants in Turkey, Belarus, Vietnam and elsewhere.
- The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is scheduled to build over twenty nuclear power plants.
If CO2 is the problem some believe it to be, nuclear power is the only large source of base load power that doesn’t emit CO2.
Because of anti-nuclear activists, the United States has ceded the opportunities, and ability to lead, to others, and will see its nuclear power plants dismantled.
Anti-nuclear groups have done a great disservice to the United States.
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